Why did Danny Meyer “high five” his wife?

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

1: Danny Meyer and his wife were having dinner at Eleven Madison Park.  At the table next to theirs was a young woman and her parents.  “It was very clear that the young woman had just moved to New York from somewhere in the Midwest,” Danny recalls in Carmine Gallo‘s terrific book The Storytellers Secret.  

It was also clear that the young woman’s parents did not approve of their daughter’s move to the Big Apple.  “She wanted to show her parents that New Yorkers were, in fact, very nice and it was a great place to live,” Danny remembers.  “Things are going pretty well until the dessert menu is being handed out.  The father looks at the menu and says, ‘Are you kidding? $42 for one glass of dessert wine?  That’s what I’m talking about here in New York.  Everything is so expensive!”

Five minutes later the waiter returns to the table with three glasses and a bottle of Chateau D’Yquem. “We are so grateful that you came tonight.  I heard you talking about the Chateau D’Yquem.  This is one of the rarest and best dessert wines in the entire world and we would love to offer you each a taste with our compliments.”  

“I’m high-fiving my wife because this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!”  Danny recounts.  He is the founder of Eleven Madison Park as well as Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, and many other New York City restaurants, as well as Shake Shack.  

“The server sized up the situation and decided that giving the equivalent of a $42 gift… with love and generosity will probably return $4,200 in word of mouth.  The parents will feel great and the daughter will feel great about taking her parents here.”

2: Danny is a big proponent of building a strong workplace culture because it sets the foundation for success.

And how is a great culture built?

On stories.

Danny “tells stories, lots of them. He tells stories in television interviews. He tells stories in keynote speeches. And, most importantly, he tells stories to educate cooks, chefs, sommeliers, and servers in the art of customer service,” writes Carmine.

“Culture is a way to describe how we do things around here,” Danny says “If you can use stories to provide examples, you get closer to perpetuating and advancing the culture.”

Telling team members they are empowered to do what’s in the best interest of the customer is fine.  But sharing a story makes it 10x more powerful.  

Storytelling becomes a “force replicator: it takes that single act and turns it into a regular happening” at his restaurants.

3: One night a political convention was in town and 11 members of the press showed up for a late dinner at one of Danny’s restaurants.  One of the guests was then-NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw.  As Danny was getting ready to leave around 1 am, he remarked, “If you folks stay long enough we’ll have to serve you scrambled eggs for dessert.” One of the guests turned to Danny and said, “I bet you’ve never had ‘eggs daffodil,’ that’s the real thing.”

So, before leaving, Danny asked his chef to figure out what eggs daffodil are and serve it to the table.  

Which he did in a copper pot.  The guests were “blown away” by the delicious concoction and by the memorable experience.  Two years later, Danny ran into Tom Brokaw again who said he’d shared the late-night eggs daffodil story with more than 12 people.

That’s an example of the power of what Danny calls “ABCD,” or “Always Be Connecting Dots.”

Danny “encourages his staff to connect information that can turn a guest’s experience into a richer, more memorable event,” writes Carmine.  “It sounds good on paper, but it’s still an abstract concept. Meyer’s stories bring it to life.”

Stories help people understand the behaviors our company wants to model.

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection: What stories can I tell about our organization going the extra mile to dazzle our clients?

Action:  Create an on-going mechanism to capture and share compelling client success stories.

Is our backstory where we discover our passion?

1: When Bobby Herrera was 17, he and his brother were on the team bus headed home after their basketball game.  When the bus stopped at a restaurant for dinner, all the other players departed the bus to have a meal.  Everyone except Bobby and his brother.  “We didn’t have the means to have dinner with the rest of the team.  We stayed back on the bus.”

A few minutes later one of the dads joined them.  “It would make me very happy if you would allow me to buy you dinner and join the rest of the team,” he told them.  “No one else has to know.  All you have to do to thank me is do the same thing for another great kid in the future.”

This week we are continuing our exploration of the principles of storytelling as outlined by Carmine Gallo in his book, The Storytellers Secret.  Storytelling is a critical 21st century skill for business leaders.  Fact-filled PowerPoint presentations do not win hearts and minds; stories do.

Yesterday we looked at the key ingredient for any storyteller: passion.  Inspiring storytellers are inspired themselves.

Where does this passion come from?

2: Many times it comes from our past.  Our backstory.

Today, Bobby is CEO of the Populus Group, a $500 million staffing firm.  The dad’s gesture “stuck in my heart forever,” Bobby recalls.  “When I reflect back on all the risks I’ve taken in my life and everything I’ve endured to make this company what it is, it’s because of the gift I received that day.  I’ve wanted nothing more than to create a vehicle where I can do the same thing for other kids who are just like me on the that bus.”

Bobby shares his very personal story as a way to teach his more than 3,000 associates about the caring, creative workplace culture they aim to create at Populus.  Team members volunteer their time to help more than 1,500 kids a year with new school supplies, catered events, and through partnerships with food banks and outreach organizations.

Origin stories help leaders to build trust, strengthen relationships, and build credibility.

“Leaders must fashion ‘stories of identity’ if they hope to change hearts and minds,” writes leadership author Howard Gardner.  “The story of identity is the origin story: the story of where a person came from and the lessons they learned from struggle or failure.”  

3: The other lesson to take from Bobby’s story?

His vulnerability.

“If you lower your guard, and be kind, and share your own mistakes, faults, and your story in a way that says ‘I am like you, more than you probably realize,’ there is so much more that you can get done together,” says Kat Cole, former President at Cinnabon.

We tap into our passion when we share the stories which shaped who we are today.

“Pay attention to your past. It holds the stories of where you’ve been and how you got to where you are,” Carmine tells us.

More tomorrow.

__________________________

Reflection:  What struggles in my past have shaped who I am today?

Action:  Take time this week to journal about the defining moments of my backstory.  Then, share it.

What was the secret of Steve Jobs’ success?

1: “As the sun was setting over the Hudson River on a brisk October day two men stood on the terrace of a luxury apartment building overlooking New York’s Central Park,” writes Carmine Gallo in his powerful book The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch on and Others Don’t

“One man, a rebellious 26-year old, dressed in a mock turtleneck and blue jeans, stared at his running shoes for a long time without saying a word. Then, as quickly as a light switch moves from off to on, he turned to the man by his side – a successful corporate executive who was one month shy of his forty-fifth birthday- and delivered the words that would transform the lives of both men and change the business world forever.

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Steve Jobs asked John Sculley, then President of PepsiCo.

John had just turned down Steve’s offer to run Apple. He remembers the question landed like a “punch in the gut.” He would change his mind and choose to join Apple.

2: Upon hearing the news of Steve’s death in 2011, John remarked, “Steve Jobs was intensely passionate at making an important difference in the lives of his fellow humans while he was on the planet. He never was into money or measured his life through owning stuff.”

Intensely passionate.

This week we are continuing our exploration of the principles of storytelling which Carmine outlines in his book. He believes storytelling is a critical 21st-century skill for business leaders.

Story explains why “many ideas fail to gain traction, while others trigger global movements. It explains why many leaders fail to inspire their teams, while others persuade people to walk through walls,” Carmine writes.

It starts with passion.

“It’s nearly impossible to be a successful storyteller without passion,” writes Carmine. “Passion leads to energy and without energy, enthusiasm, and excitement it becomes very difficult to hold an audience’s attention.”

Inspiring storytellers are inspired themselves.

Steve Jobs “captivated our imaginations because he had a wild and wondrous appreciation for how technology could change the world and he had the courage to express it,” Carmine writes.

Upon returning to Apple in 1997, Steve said: “This is a very complicated world. It’s a very noisy world and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. And so we need to be really clear on what we want them to know about us… Apple’s core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”

Business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs are wise to take note. We must be clear on what we want people to know about us.

3: Carmine outlines four questions to help us articulate what we are passionate about. The first question applies to founders, but the remaining three apply to all business people.

1: Why did you start a company?

2: What does your company do?

3: What are you passionate about?

4: What makes your heart sing?

“Don’t ask, ‘What do I want to do?’ Ask yourself, ‘What makes my heart sing?'” Carmine suggests.

More tomorrow.

________________

Reflection: What makes my heart sing?

Action: Journal about my answers to Carmine’s four questions above.

What does Jack Welch believe is the ultimate competitive business advantage?

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage,” former GE CEO Jack Welch tells us.

Ultimate.  Competitive.  Advantage.

Spoken by one of the most successful CEO’s in history.

But how does an organization become a learning organization?

At PCI, we focus on two specific strategies.

First, we look outside for new ideas that will make us better.  We are big believers in reading and discussion groups.  Over the course of each year, we select several books to read and discuss and invite all 450 of our associates to participate.  Anyone who is interested can join in.  It’s a simple agreement: we buy the book, the person who volunteers agrees to read and discuss it.  

Note: I make this offer for any book one of our associates wants to read that will make them better.  Same agreement as above: we buy it.  They agree to read it.  

In recent years, we’ve read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey), Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck), The Happiness Advantage (Shawn Achor), Well Being (Tom Rath and Jim Harter), and The Miracle Morning (Hal Elrod).  Last summer, as part of our social justice initiative, we read and discussed White Fragility (Robin Diangelo).  This summer we’re continuing our exploration of these issues with the reading of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  

Once every five years, we conduct a five week, company-wide reading and discussion of The Servant as Leader by Robert Greenleaf.  Participation is required for all PCI associates (vs. all other all-company book clubs which are voluntary).  While this commitment represents a significant investment of time and money, we believe the ROI is tremendous as it creates a servant-leadership mindset as well as a common vocabulary across our organization. 

In addition to company-wide book clubs, many of our teams and departments are involved in reading-discussion groups specific to their area throughout the year.

Reading, learning, and applying new ideas from books and thought leaders is smart.  There is, however, an even more powerful strategy to becoming a learning organization.  In addition to searching for ideas outside the organization, we create a mindset internally where we are constantly experimenting.  In every department.  In every area of the company.  Then, we pay careful attention to the results. 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular expression.  

It’s also not wise.  

Instead, we commit to a path of continuous improvement.  With this approach, mistakes and setbacks are expected.  

This concept is captured in our “Unlock Human Potential” value: “If you make a mistake, own up to it so together we can fix it, learn from it, and get better next time.”

We iterate.  We pay attention.  We stay nimble. We modify.  We learn.  We improve as we go.

The goal isn’t to be “right.”  The goal isn’t to “look smart.”  The goal is to learn, grow and get better at getting better.   

It starts at the top.

_______________________________

Reflection:  How do I show up?  Is my goal to learn?  Or, to look smart?

Action:  Discuss with my spouse or a colleague who knows me well.

How to transform our view of stress

1: What we’ve taught about stress is wrong, Kelly McGonigal argues in her terrific book The Upside of Stress.  Despite what we’ve been taught and told, the latest science shows stress by itself is not harmful.  However, believing stress is harmful to our health is toxic. 

So, how do we transform our view of stress?  Are there actions we can take when we feel overwhelmed to direct our stress?

The short answer?  Yes.

Step one is to acknowledge stress when we experience it.  Simply allow ourselves to notice the stress, including how it affects our body. 

Step two is to welcome the stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something we care about.  Ask: what is at stake here?  Why does it matter?  Are we able to connect to the positive motivation behind the stress? 

Step three is to make use of the energy that stress gives us.  Instead of wasting energy trying to manage our stress, we ask: What can we do right now that reflects our goals and values? 

2: In research studies, people who took a two-hour program where they learned the three step stress mindset process above and who were encouraged to practice at least once a day, showed significant improvement.

Before the training, participants “had generally endorsed a stress-is-harmful mindset, but now they were more likely to recognize its upside.  They were also better at dealing with stress… [reporting] less anxiety and depression and better physical health.  At work, they felt more focused, creative, and engaged,” writes Kelly.

Perhaps most encouraging?

Those whose mindset changed the most—from most negative to more positive—showed the biggest improvements.  

And, at a final follow-up six weeks afterwards, these benefits were maintained. 

“Importantly,” Kelly notes, “none of these benefits could be explained by a reduction on the amount of stress the employees reported.  The intervention did not reduce stress, it transformed stress.”

3: As a lecturer at Stanford, Kelly encourages her students to put these theories about the positive nature of stress into action.  

“I ask the students to report back on the ideas we discussed the previous week. Were they able to use any of the strategies?  Did rethinking stress help them handle a difficult situation?  I also ask them to pay special attention to any opportunities to share what they are learning with others.  Their last assignment is to report back on what they found most helpful and how they shared that idea or practice with someone they care about.”

The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

“One student had a son on active duty, assigned to a special-ops wing of the U.S. Air Force,” Kelly shares.  “There are times the family has no idea where he is. The student found the course helpful in dealing with the stress of separation and the uncertainty of not knowing. 

“Another student had recently left a bad marriage and was starting over on her own. The new stress mindset reinforced her belief that she had the ability to move on, and gave her a more positive way to think about her past experience. 

“Another student had recently been demoted at work, and had fallen into a pattern of doing less than his best and isolating himself from his coworkers.  He had been telling himself that disengaging at work was helpful because it allowed him to avoid the stress he felt about being demoted. The class helped him realize how self-defeating that was, and he was able to reengage in a more productive way on the job.”

Kelly notes: “The new mindset didn’t change the situations themselves, but it did change the students’ relationships to them.” 

More tomorrow.

___________________

Reflection: Why does Kelly encourage her students to share what they are learning about stress with others?

Action:  Experiment with the three-step stress mindset practice above.  Today.

How changing our view of stress changes our life

1: It was 2008.  The economy was in free fall.  

“The financial industry is a notoriously stressful place to work,” Kelly McGonigal writes in The Upside of Stress.  “One study found that within ten years of entering the industry, 100 percent of investment bankers developed at least one condition associated with burnout, such as insomnia, alcoholism, or depression.”

The 2008 economic collapse ratcheted up the pressure: “Financial workers reported significantly greater workplace stress, fear of layoffs, exhaustion, and burnout. Across the industry, there were widespread reports of increased anxiety, depression, and suicide,” Kelly reports. 

Like other investment banks, UBS was hit hard.  The value of shares dropped 58 percent. The bank initiated major layoffs and cut employee compensation by 36 percent. 

This was the backdrop for scientist Alia Crum to test whether a brief learning regarding the positive aspects of stress could help UBSers thrive during times of high stress.

2: In the middle of the meltdown, UBS associates received an email from human resources inviting them to participate in a stress-management program.  388 UBSers signed up—half men, half women, with an average age of thirty-eight.  “These stress-mindset guinea pigs were dealing with an increased workload, uncontrollable work demands, and enormous uncertainty about their own futures. So, yes, they knew stress,” Kelly writes. 

Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group, with 164 associates, received an online training that delivered a message that stress is inherently negative. The second group, with 163 associates, received an online training designed to give them a more positive view of stress.  A smaller control group of 61 associates got no training at all. 

Over the course of one week, those in groups one and two received emails with links to three videos that were each three minutes long.  Those in the first group were treated to statistics like “Stress is America’s number one health issue” and “Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.”  The videos warned that stress “can lead to mood swings, emotional exhaustion, and memory loss.”

Those in the stress-is-enhancing group saw very different videos. These videos explained how stress can increase physical resilience, enhance focus, deepen relationships, and strengthen personal values.  The videos included examples of companies and people who thrived during challenging times and performed heroically when faced with stress.

All participants completed surveys before and after the online trainings. 

3: The results were clear.  Those “who watched the negative videos became even more convinced that stress was harmful.”  Those who viewed the positive videos developed a more positive view of stress.  They reported a more balanced view of stress than before the intervention.  

“The change was statistically significant,” Kelly notes.  “But it wasn’t a complete reversal.  Instead of viewing stress as predominantly harmful, they now saw both the good and bad in stress.”

There were other benefits for this group.  They were “less anxious and depressed. They reported fewer health problems, like back pain and insomnia. They also reported greater focus, engagement, collaboration, and productivity at work,” Kelly writes. 

More tomorrow.

__________________________

Reflection:  When in my past have I performed at my best during stressful situations?  How might my body’s stress response aided in my performance?

Action:  Read Kelly’s book The Upside of Stress to learn more.

Can our mindset change the way we experience stress?

1: Imagine a job interview.

An extra stressful job interview where the interviewer barks negative feedback no matter what we say or do.

“Do you think gender inequality in the workplace is still a problem?” The interviewer asks. 

We start to answer, but the interviewer interrupts, “That’s a bad example.  Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Stop uttering ‘uh’ and ‘um,'” the interviewer growls.  “Why aren’t you looking me in the eyes?  Your posture lacks confidence.” 

Does that sound stressful?

Actually, that’s the goal.

2: Scientist Alia Crum runs the Behavioral Research Lab at Columbia University.  Her research focuses on the impact of stress, Kelly McGonigal recounts in her excellent book, The Upside of Stress.

Prior to participating in the mock interview described above, participants are shown one of two videos. 
One half of the group watches a video that begins with an ominous announcement: “Most people know that stress is negative . . . but research shows that stress is even more debilitating than you expect,”  Kelly writes. 

The video then describes how stress can harm your health, happiness, and work performance.

The second video, which the other half of the group watches begins, “Most people think that stress is negative . . . but actually research shows that stress is enhancing,” Kelly writes

The video then describes how stress can improve performance, enhance well-being, and help us grow.

After watching the short videos, the participants take part in the mock interviews described above where they receive unrelenting negative feedback from the trained interviewers.

“The goal of the study is to manipulate participants’ views of stress and then watch how their bodies respond to a stressful situation,” writes Kelly.  

As a participant herself, she notes, “Even though I knew that the whole thing was a carefully scripted experiment designed to throw me off balance, it was still stressful.”

Following the interviews, the scientists then test the participants’ saliva to measure the ratio of two stress hormones: DHEA to cortisol, which is called the “growth index” of a stress response.  We need both hormones, and neither is “good” nor “bad,” Kelly notes.  However, higher levels of cortisol relative to DHEA are associated with worse outcomes, including impaired immune function and depression. 

“A higher growth index—meaning more DHEA—helps people thrive under stress.  It predicts academic persistence and resilience in college students, as well as higher GPAs.  During military survival training, a higher growth index is associated with greater focus, less dissociation, and superior problem-solving skills, as well as fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms afterward,” Kelly notes.  “The growth index even predicts resilience in extreme circumstances, such as recovering from child abuse.”

3: Scientist Alia Crum’s study was testing to see if changing people’s perceptions of stress could modify this measure of resilience.

“Could a three-minute video about stress alter this key ratio of stress hormones?” Kelly writes.

The short answer?  Yes.

The participants who watched the stress-is-enhancing video before the interview released more DHEA and had a higher growth index than the participants who watched the stress-is-debilitating video.

“Viewing stress as enhancing made it so – not in some subjective, self-reported way, but in the ratio of stress hormones produced by the participants’ adrenal glands,” Kelly notes.  “Viewing stress as helpful created a different biological reality.”

How we think about stress impacts how our body reacts to stress.

Mindset matters.  With stress.  As well as with many other aspects of our lives.

More tomorrow.
________________________________

Reflection:  What is my mindset about stress?  What are the implications of Alia Crum’s research on me?

Action:  Journal about it.

Does scaring people motivate them to change?

1: What is the effect of showing smokers graphic warnings on cigarette packs?

When doctors are asked this question, “In general, they believe that the images will decrease smokers’ desire for a cigarette and motivate them to quit,” writes Kelly McGonigal in her terrific book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.

Actually, studies show the warnings have the opposite effect.  

“The most threatening images (say, a lung cancer patient dying in a hospital bed) actually increase smokers’ positive attitudes toward smoking,” Kelly states.

The reason? 

The images trigger fear.  And, “what better way to calm down than to smoke a cigarette?” Kelly observes.

The physicians assume fear would inspire people to change their behavior, but being afraid motivates us to soothe our uncomfortable feelings and escape feeling bad.

2: “Another strategy that consistently backfires is shaming people for their unhealthy behaviors,” Kelly writes.  
“In one study at the University of California, Santa Barbara, overweight women read a New York Times article about how employers are beginning to discriminate against overweight workers.  Afterward, instead of vowing to lose weight, the women ate twice as many calories of junk food as overweight women who had read an article on a different workplace issue.”

There is a pattern.  

“Well-intentioned doctors and psychologists convey a message they think will help; instead, the recipients end up overwhelmed, depressed, and driven to self-destructive coping behaviors,” she reflects.

3: Kelly is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University.  For years she “taught classes and workshops, conducted research and wrote articles and books… [telling] people that stress makes you sick, that it increases your risk of everything from the common cold to heart disease, depression, and addiction, that it kills brain cells, damages your DNA, and makes you age faster.”  

Once people were educated on how bad stress was, the idea was we would reduce the stress in our lives, and this would make us healthier and happier.But that wasn’t the result.

“No matter the audience,” writes Kelly, “nobody ever came up afterward to say, “Thank you so much for telling me how toxic my stressful life is.  I know I can get rid of the stress, but I’d just never thought to do it before!”

In fact, by talking about stress in this way, Kelly and her fellow psychologists were training people to see stress as toxic – which is dangerous.  

Because new scientific research suggests it isn’t stress itself which is harmful, but our belief that stress is toxic that causes us harm.

More tomorrow. 

 _____________________

Reflection:  Think back on when I made a significant behavior change.  What motivated me to make the change?  What are the implications for me?

Action:  Journal my answers to the questions above.  

What a crisis looks like

Monday through Thursday we explore ideas from authors, thought leaders, and exemplary organizations.  On Friday, I share something we are doing at PCI in our quest to earn a spot on Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.  In the world.

1: This week in RiseWithDrew we’ve been exploring the mindset and practices of Ritz Carlton, which has elevated the guest experience to the highest level.

At PCI, two of the five pillars of our notthebigcompany culture are client-specific:  our goal and our client promises.  

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of my grandfather Rocky Clancy starting our predecessor firm, the Rockwell F. Clancy Company.  The last ten years have been good ones at PCI (we feel very Blessed!).  But if you last 100 years, there are certainly going to be challenging periods as well.  One of these challenging periods occurred in the mid-2000s.  

It was out of one of this periods that our goal and our client promises were created.   

PCI was an early leader in providing online communities for colleges and universities.  In the early 2000s, 18 of the nation’s top 25 universities, as ranked by US News, were PCI clients, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and Northwestern.  We believed this was the future of our company.  

We stumbled.  

We began by creating an online community website for each of our clients.  The benefit of this approach is we could customize each site.  The disadvantage was it was difficult to roll out new features to all clients.  We added new functionality one site at a time.  And, each code set was different.  What worked well when we had ten clients became a nightmare as we grew to 50, then 75, then 100 clients.

We needed a technology platform.

Turns our creating a technology platform is complex.  And, expensive.  

We had two sets of developers: one working on the existing sites responding to client requests; one creating the new platform.  

The old business adage: “It always takes longer and costs more” was our reality.  One year turned into two.  As we started our third year of developing the new platform, we were in trouble.  Clients were impatient.  Clients were leaving.

An even bigger problem was we were neglecting our traditional business of collecting data and publishing alumni and membership directories.  With the two development teams, expenses were climbing as revenue was falling from $10 million to $6 million.  

That’s what a crisis looks like.

2: But, we are a resilient bunch at PCI.  To last 100 years, that’s a requirement.  

We realized our traditional business of helping our clients collect data from their constituents was still valuable.  [Side note: still is today].  We finished the technology platform which also became the technology platform for our traditional business, too.

And, we doubled down on pleasing our clients.  We have always taken great pride in serving our clients at the highest level.  But we had slipped.  And, we knew it.  As Jim Collins writes in Good to Great, great companies “confront the brutal facts.”

We started having difficult conversations.  What did we need to do to reclaim our reputation and become the company we wanted to be?

“Every client should be referenceable.”  That was a phrase that came out of these conversations.  That became our rallying cry.  That became our goal.

We wanted to delight our clients so each one would say good things about PCI.  Every client would refer us internally to their colleagues and externally to their peers.

Every client.  Every call.  Every interaction.

3: The next question was: How?  How do we do it?

One of the tenets of our notthebigcompany culture is we create it together.  So, we asked all of our associates to write down their very best ideas on how to make every client referenceable.  They did.  We received over 500 ideas.  [One of our associates actually wrote two chapters of a book on the topic – true story.]  

Next, our then VP for People Deborah Dale and I sat in a conference room and took all the ideas and began sorting them.  Five themes emerged.  These five things became our five client promises: Be proactive. Be accountable. Be trustworthy. Be positive.  Be passionate.

We start every meeting at PCI by stating our goal: Every client should be referenceable.  We make every client referenceable by living our five client promises each and every day.

More next week.

_______________________

Reflection:  How can we elevate the client experience in my organization?  Is there an idea that has worked in the past that could be re-introduced?

Action:  Do it.

What mindset leads to client delight?  

At Ritz Carlton, they differentiate between three levels of service.

There is the minimum level, essentially giving the guest what is expected.

There is a second level where the guest has a request and the request is fulfilled.

Then, there is the third level of service where the goal is customer delight.  This isn’t “customer service,” but a “memorable customer experience.”  Something unexpected.  Something that will be remembered.  This goal was repeatedly emphasized in the virtual class I took earlier this year from Ritz Carlton titled: “Best Practices & Foundations of Our Brand.”

To play at this level requires Ritz Carlton staffers to be fully engaged.  It’s the difference between being fully present and anticipating client needs vs. being robotic and going through the motions.   

It begins with empathetic listening where we listen with our ears as well as our eyes and our heart.  

This type of listening is very different than listening with the intent to respond.  To do it well, we must slow down.  The goal is to pick up on all that is being shared.  We are not in a rush.  Busy is the enemy.  We want to be fully present, to engage all of the senses, and focus on the details.  Doing so allows us to anticipate and then to provide a memorable experience.  This mindset makes all the difference between “customer service” and “memorable customer service”.

At Ritz Carlton, this approach is practiced by all Ritz Carlton team members up and down the organization.  A Ritz Carlton staffer is not just a server in the restaurant or a front desk clerk, but a critical element in a system designed to deliver a memorable moment to each guest.  

In every interaction there is always an opportunity to “plus one,” to go above and beyond.  

Ask: how can we elevate the experience just a little to create a memory?  

Some organizations over-complicate service.  Instead, keep it simple: it’s about people taking care of people.

More tomorrow.

_______________________

Reflection:  How might my organization capitalize on the Ritz Carlton concept of “plus one”?

Action:  Discuss with a colleague or my team.

What is the #1 reason clients leave?

“Why do customers leave?” is part of the research conducted by the American Society for Quality.

9 percent choose to go with a competitor.  

10 percent leave for logistical reasons (move, death, etc.).  

Another 14 percent depart because of product or service dissatisfaction.

What is by far the biggest reason that clients leave us, scoring 67 percent?

An attitude of indifference on the part of a company employee or team member.

Each client-facing person in our organizations has the ability to destroy the consumer experience and send our clients running.  

This research is aligned with data that shows 90% of communication is not the message, but how the message is delivered.

These metrics were shared as part of a virtual class I took earlier this year from Ritz Carlton titled: “Best Practices & Foundations of Our Brand.”

At Ritz Carlton, they aim to develop team members up.  Or, out.  

Quickly.

Ritz Carlton staffers are expected to be passionate advocates for their brand and culture.  During a year-long onboarding process, associates move from “hearing it” in their first four months, to “believing it” in months five and six, to “living it” where they personalize, internalize, and promote the Ritz Carlton brand.

Ritz Carlton teaches a five-step process when a guest has a problem.  

Step 1: Dream it.  Each associate is entrusted to spend up to $2,000 per guest, per day to come up with creative solutions to solve guest frustrations.

Step 2: Mean it.  Focus on repairing the relationship.

Step 3: Own it.  

Step 4: Resolve it.  Stay with it until the guest is satisfied.

Step 5: Record it.  Capture the lessons learned.

Driving service excellence begins with a full commitment from top leadership.  Leadership must live it every single day.  

But leadership is not reserved for just the C-suite.  At Ritz Carlton, all associates are expected to be leaders as captured by their slogan:  “Every customer.  Every time.  Always.”

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  How might my organization learn from Ritz Carlton’s five-step process to address client issues?

Action:  Make this an agenda item at an upcoming team meeting.

What’s makes customer service memorable?

1: Chris Hurn’s son couldn’t fall asleep.  

Their family had just returned from a vacation on Amelia Island, Florida.  Joshie, the boy’s beloved stuffed giraffe, had accidentally been left behind.

“Joshie is fine,” Chris told his son, “He’s just taking an extra-long vacation at the resort.”  The boy seemed to buy it and eventually drifted off to sleep, write Chip and Dan Heath in their terrific book, The Power of Moments

Later that night, a Ritz Carlton staffer called and shared that Joshie had been found.  A relieved Chris asked for a favor:  Would someone take a photo of the giraffe by the pool to show he’d been vacationing?

The lost giraffe provided an opportunity for what Ritz Carlton calls a “plus one.”

Later that week, Joshie arrived with a binder full of photos.  “One showed him lounging by the pool, another showed Joshie driving a golf cart,” Chip and Dan write.  “Others captured him hanging out with a hotel parrot, getting a massage in the spa (with cucumber slices covering his eyes), and even monitoring security cameras in the control room.”

2: Earlier this year I had the privilege of taking a virtual course from Ritz Carlton titled: “Best Practices & Foundations of Our Brand.”

One of the key takeaways was how to elevate the service experience.

While each Ritz Carlton associate is entrusted with up to $2,000 per guest, per day to solve guest problems, the firm believes strongly it’s not about money.  [Note: the average amount spent to resolve guest issues is $65 per incident.]

It’s about creativity. 

Which requires us to slow down and take the time to anticipate and get inside the mind of our clients.

The goal at Ritz Carlton is not to deliver “customer service.”  But “memorable customer service.”  To create memories for their guests.  To elevate each interaction like the story of Joshie above.  To enhance each encounter by asking: What can we do right now to “plus one” this experience.

3: At Ritz Carlton, the aim is not “satisfied” clients.  But “engaged” clients who have an active relationship with the brand.  Loyal clients who can’t imagine a world without Ritz Carlton.  

To create loyalty like this requires us to focus on the psychological component of customer service: the heart, the psyche, and creating an emotional connection with the brand. 

Brands have functional and emotional benefits.  The functional benefit is based solely on the attributes of the product or service.  The emotional benefit is the positive feelings we get from purchasing and using the product or service.

Ritz Carlton believes their brand is not a product or a logo, but a story that is always being told.  The Ritz Carlton brand is an experience in the mind of the client.  It’s the emotion that experience evokes.  

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection: What opportunities are there for my organization to “plus one” the experience of our clients?

Action:  Discuss with a colleague or small team.

Can a company be a great place to work with everyone working from home?

Getting better at getting better is what RiseWithDrew is all about.

Monday through Thursday we explore ideas from authors and thought leaders.  On Friday, I share something we are doing at PCI in our quest to earn a spot of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in the world.

At PCI, we will not be returning to our offices.  We’ve decided to continue to work virtually.  

Work from home.  Work from anywhere.  That is our new reality.

We have office space in three states – all of which we are looking to sublet.

There are risks with this decision, especially as we are a “culture-first” company.  As I wrote about two weeks ago, our business strategy is to be a great place to work.  

Happy associates = Happy clients = Happy company.

The question is: Can we have a great workplace culture if we are not working together in an office every day?

One internal data point suggests yes.

Prior to the pandemic, about 50% of our team was already working from home, including all of our associates in Arkansas.  

Where for the past two years, PCI has been named the #1 Best Place to Work in the state of Arkansas and here based on anonymous associate surveys.

There are three contributing factors to this success:

First, we have an amazing team of associates in Arkansas.  Exclamation mark.  We have been diligent in hiring people who share our five values.  

Second, we have an amazing group of leaders who make it their #1 priority to stay connected with their team members.  It starts with the right people.  Then, over time, we’ve created a system to help facilitate on-going connection and coaching.  

Third, once a quarter, myself and our other top leaders hold a “not the typical quarterly business meeting” (QBM) where we share information and recognize top performers as well as team members who are bringing our five values to life.  

Pre-pandemic, these meetings were high energy, in-person gatherings.  We’ve adapted during the pandemic to hold our QBMs virtually, but we are very much looking forward to being in person again soon.

More to come in future posts.

________________________

Reflection:  What have been the advantages of working from home?  What have been the drawbacks?

Action: Discuss with a colleague.

What we can learn from a young girl with a powerful story

1: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 started out like just another normal day.  

A 15-year old school girl boarded a rickety covered truck and three benches in the back.  The “school bus” made its way down a muddy road.  Suddenly it stopped.  Two masked men came aboard.  One of them pulled out a Colt .45 and fired three shots at the girl, one of which hit her in her left eye, Carmine Gallo recounts in his book, The Storyteller’s Secret.

She was treated at a hospital in England and survived.  She still lives there because there is too much risk for her to return to her native Pakistan.

Malala.

“Her first name alone has become a symbol of resilience and courage,” Carmine writes.

“At any one time there are 66 million girls out of school around the world.  Every three seconds a girl becomes a child bride, and 4 out of 5 victims of human trafficking are girls,” Carmine reports.  

2: “Those numbers are staggering, but the human mind doesn’t handle abstraction very well.  And that’s why one face, one story, can humanize a global atrocity and give voice to millions who can’t speak for themselves.

“And when the face belongs to a brilliant storyteller, a movement begins,” Carmine observes.

One year after the shooting, Malala spoke in front of the United Nations about the millions of girls around the globe who are denied the ability to attend school.  Her talk received several standing ovations and launched a movement to unlock the potential in young girls.

Her book I Am Malala spent over a year on the New Your Times bestseller list.

In 2014, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize

As we discussed yesterday, a transformative story requires (1) a hero with whom we can empathize (2) whose world is turned upside down by an unexpected challenge who (3) triumphs over hardship and adversity (4) which sparks a call to action or lesson learned.

3: Austin Madison is a story artist and animator at Pixar who has worked movies like Brave and Toy Story 3 gave a presentation on the 7-step process that all Pixar movies follow.

1. Once there was a ___. [A hero with a goal is the most important element of a story.]

2. Every day he or she ___. [The hero’s world must be in balance in the first act.]

3. Until one day ___. [A compelling story introduces conflict. The hero’s goal faces a challenge.]

4. Because of that ___. [This step is critical and separates a blockbuster from an average story. A compelling story isn’t made up of random scenes that are loosely tied together. Each scene has one nugget of information that compels the next scene.]

5. Because of that ___.

6. Until finally ____. [The climax reveals the triumph of good over evil.]

7. Ever since then ___. [The moral of the story.]

Carmine notes that “Malala’s speech perfectly follows Pixar’s 7-step storytelling process.  I doubt that she did this intentionally,” he comments, “but it demonstrates once again the theme in this book—there’s a difference between a story, a good story, and a story that sparks movements.  Below is Pixar’s storytelling process overlaid on Malala’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

1: Once there was a little girl who lived in a ‘paradise home’ in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, ‘a place of tourism and beauty.’

2: Every day she had ‘a thirst for education’ and would go to class ‘to sit and learn and read.’

3: Until one day the Swat Valley ‘turned into a place of terrorism.’

4: Because of that girls’ education became a crime and ‘girls were stopped from going to school.’

5: Because of that Malala’s priorities changed: ‘I decided to speak up.’

6: Until finally the terrorists attacked Malala.  She survived.  ‘Neither their ideas or bullets could win.’

7: Ever since then Malala’s voice ‘has grown louder and louder’ because Malala is speaking for the 66 million girls deprived of an education.  ‘I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it’s not,’ Malala said.”

More tomorrow.

_______________________

Reflection:  What is a goal in my life right now?  Who do I need to persuade?  Think or find a persuasive story that will move my audience toward my goal.  Outline my story using the Pixar 7-step process.

Action:  Journal my answers to the questions above.  Deliver my story!

Are challenge, adversity, and transformation the keys to great storytelling?

1: “Growing up in the hot Las Vegas desert, all I wanted was to be free,” so begins Amy Purdy‘s story.

The day after graduating high school, Amy moved to the mountains in Utah where she pursued her passion for snowboarding.  “For the first time in my life I felt free, independent, and completely in control of my life…”

Until she wasn’t.  

This week we are learning how to tell powerful stories as outlined by Carmine Gallo in his terrific book The Storyteller’s Secret.  Today, we explore the classic “three-act structure.”  

“Enduring stories tend to share a dramatic arc, “observes Professor Paul Zak, “in which a character struggles and eventually finds heretofore unknown abilities and uses these to triumph over adversity.  My work shows that the brain is highly attracted to this story style.”

“Inspiring speakers build a story structure for every important pitch, presentation, meeting, or conversation,” Carmine observes.

2: Act I introduces (1) the protagonist, our hero: Amy, and (2) the setting where our character is living their everyday life: the hot Las Vegas desert.  

In Act 1, we aim to create empathy for our hero.  We want our audience to see themselves in our story: “We identify with characters we care about,” Carmine writes.  All of us relate to Amy’s desire to be free.  We admire her gumption for moving to the mountains the day after graduating from high school.

“The first act also establishes the turning point.  It ends with the introduction of the conflict,” Carmine writes.

“I went home from work early one day with what I thought was the flu, and less than 24-hours later I was in the hospital on life support with less than a two percent chance of living,” Amy shares.

Act 2 is all about struggle and adversity and hardship.  We introduce the villain, in Amy’s case, bacterial meningitis which resulted in the loss of her spleen, part of her kidneys, and both of her legs below her knees.  

At the moment we think things can’t get any worse, they do. 

“I thought the worst was over until weeks later I saw my new legs for the first time,” Amy recollects. “My darkest days were when I went home and had to walk in these metal legs for the first time.  I had to rethink the rest of my life.  I felt so out of control.  I was at the bottom of the barrel.

“I was absolutely physically and emotionally broken,” she remembers.

Somehow Amy forges ahead.  But more challenges await.  Four months later, she wills herself back onto a snowboard.  But she falls and her prosthetic legs, still attached to her snowboard, go flying down the mountain, traumatizing the skiers on the chairlift.  “I was so discouraged,” Amy recalls.

Tension and ultimately triumph are key.  According to Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns: “The road to satisfying experiences must necessarily pass through the terrain of discomfort.”  

In Act 3, the conflict reaches its climax.  Everything seems hopeless.  “Our hero must dig deep within her soul to find the emotional strength to fix the problem and rise above the seemingly insurmountable odds.  This is the climax,” Carmine writes.

Amy refused to quit.  She worked to create prosthetic legs and feet that allowed her to compete in snowboarding.  Today, she is one of the top-ranked adaptive snowboarders in the world, winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics. 

At this moment, the hero turns the harrowing experience into a lesson: “My legs haven’t disabled me, if anything they’ve enabled me,” says Amy.  “Instead of looking at our challenges and our limitations as something negative or bad, we can begin to look at them at blessings, magnificent gifts that can be used to ignite our imaginations and help us go further than we ever knew we could go.”

3: Carmine believes the three act structure is the key to telling a great story.  “One of the major findings in this book is the fact that most great storytellers have struggled in their life and they’ve turned their adversity into victory. Their failures make them more interesting because, we are hardwired to love rags-to-riches stories,” he writes.  “We derive meaning from our lives in the form of story.”

Great storytellers “work tirelessly at crafting and delivering an engaging story,” writes Carmine.  “There’s a difference between a story, a good story, and a transformative story that builds trust and inspires people to dream bigger,” Carmine observes.

To tell a transformative story, we are smart to ask ourselves the following questions:

  -Is my hero someone with whom my audience will empathize? 

  -Do I grab my listener with a question or unexpected challenge, a humbling moment when all goes wrong?

  -Does my story involve hardship and struggles, climaxing in a personal transformation where my hero rises above failure?

  -What is the life lesson learned or to call to action that results from the experience?

More tomorrow.

_______________________________

Reflection: Prepare to deliver a story using the three-act structure.

Action:  Deliver it.

How stories bring Starbuck’s values to life

1: The year was 1983.  Starbucks had four stores which sold only whole bean coffee beans and had no seating.  

Howard Schultz had recently been hired and was sent on a business trip to Italy.  “People think I’m the founder of Starbucks.  I was an employee when Starbucks only had four stores,” explains Howard, the former Starbucks CEO in Carmine Gallo‘s terrific book The Storyteller’s Secret.

While traveling abroad, Howard fell in love with Italy and “the romance and the theater of coffee.”  He returned from his trip convinced Starbucks was in the wrong business.

“What I wanted to bring back was the daily ritual and the sense of community and the idea that we could build this third place between home and work in America.  It was an epiphany.  I was out of my mind.  I walked in and saw this symphony of activity,” he remembers.  “And coffee being at the center of the conversation, creating that sense of community.  That is what spoke to me.”

The founders of Starbucks weren’t interested in Howard’s vision, however.  

So, he left and started his own specialty coffee store.  By 1987, he owned three espresso bars.  At which point, Howard was given the opportunity to purchase Starbucks when the founders ran into financial difficulties.  

The rest is history.  Today, Starbucks has over $23 Billion in revenue and more than 349,000 associates.

2: Howard has never forgotten his hardscrabble roots, however.  And, his backstory has informed the purpose of the organization he has helped build.

When Howard was seven years old, he vividly remembers the day his father Fred broke his ankle while working as a diaper service deliveryman.  This event began a downward spiral for his family.  Unable to work, Howard’s dad had no income, no health insurance, no workers comp.  Nothing to fall back on.

“That image of my father, slumped on the family couch, his leg in a cast unable to work or earn money, and ground down by the world – is still burned in my mind,” he recalls.

“I never set out to build a global business,” Howard states.  “I set out to build the kind of company that my father never had a chance to work for.  One that treats all people with dignity,” 

In 1988, shortly after his father passed away, Starbucks became one of the very first companies in America to give health insurance to all its workers—including part-timers.  A benefit like this was very unusual at the time, especially in retail.

Three years later, Starbucks gave stock ownership to all its associates.  Since its inception, “Bean Stock” has generated more than $1.5 billion in pre-tax gains for the company’s baristas and managers, helping them make “down payments on homes, finance cars, pay off loans, even pay for weddings.”

3: Howard has “never grown tired of telling the stories of his childhood or his visit to Italy.  And it’s a good thing he hasn’t,” Carmine writes.  “There’s a direct correlation between his stories, engaged employees, and satisfied customers who view his shops as something more than just a place to get their morning jolt.”

Howard is a master storyteller.  

His origin stories hit on what marketing professor Julie Napoli calls the three dimensions of authentic brands: heritage, sincerity, and commitment to quality.  “Customers want to know where a product comes from, who the people are behind it, and how committed they are to delivering a quality product,” writes Carmine.  “Customers don’t buy a brand or a logo as much as they buy into a set of values.”

And, how do we bring theoretical concepts and values to life?

By telling stories.  Like Howard Schultz.

More tomorrow.

___________________________

Reflection:  What is the origin story of my organization?  How does this story drive the values of the organization? 

Action:  Set aside time to document or review my organization’s origin story.  Tell it.

Why Steve Jobs introduced the villain before the hero

1: The year was 2003.  Steve Jobs was about to reinvent the music industry.

“He persuaded millions of music lovers that it was a good idea to pay for something many of them were getting for free on peer-to-peer file-sharing programs,” writes Carmine Gallo in his terrific book The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch on and Others Don’t.

How did Steve do it?

By using the classic narrative technique of introducing the villains, Napster and Kazaa, which at the time were sites offering free downloads.

Steve outlined the “dark side” of these sites:

  -Unreliable downloads

  -Unreliable quality [“A lot of these songs are encoded by seven-year-olds and they don’t do a great job.”]

  -No previews

  -No album art

  -It’s stealing [“It’s best not to mess with Karma.”]

Steve then demonstrated how the typical user when interfacing with the villain would have to guess among the 50 or 60 files of the same song to download.  

“The download is slow as molasses, and craps out half way through,” Steve stated.

The process could take up to 15-minutes: “What this means is you’ll spend an hour at that rate and you’ll get four songs; four songs that cost you four bucks from Apple and you calculate that you are working for under minimum wage.”

Steve challenged the idea that consumers would object to paying 99 cents a song.

“How much is 99 cents?  How many of you had a Starbucks latte this morning?  Three bucks.  That’s three songs.  How many lattes got sold across the U.S. this morning?  A lot.  99 cents is pretty affordable.”

2: Time to introduce the hero.  

Steve then outlined the benefits of using the new iTunes music store:

  -Fast, reliable downloads

  -Pristine encoding

  -Previews of every song

  -Album cover art

  -Good Karma

“In 10 minutes Jobs had completely transformed the mindset of those who didn’t believe in paying 99 cents, let alone any price, for the songs they were already downloading,” Carmine writes.  “He also convinced skeptical analysts that the service would provide a strong enough benefit to encourage music lovers to spend 99 cents a song and make money for Apple.”

3: Storytelling is a critical 21st-century skill for business leaders.  This week we will be doing a deep dive into the key elements of how to become a great storyteller.

Lesson #1: When facing a skeptical audience, begin by painting a picture of the villain before introducing our product or service as the conquering hero.  The villain/hero narrative drives home the problem our idea solves.

“Simple can be harder than complex,” Steve once said.  “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

More tomorrow.

___________________

Reflection: What villain could I introduce the next time I am attempting to persuade a person or audience?

Action:  Look for an opportunity to experiment with the villain / hero framework today.

Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

Earlier this year, PCI made the decision not to return to our offices.  We will continue to work virtually.  

We have office space in three states – all of which we are looking to sublet.

Work from home.  Work from anywhere.  That is our new reality.

There are some definite benefits to the “Work from Anywhere” model.  

Starting with avoiding commuting to work.  Each week we get hours of our life back.  Turns out this is a big deal.  The research suggests “the more time you spend getting to and from work, the less likely you are to be satisfied with life.” 

But there are also some real concerns with working virtually.  

Concern #1?

Mental health.

One of the other benefits from working from home is (potentially) fewer distractions which allows us to focus and get our work done.

But what are these distractions we are avoiding?

People.

Yes, we are better able to focus, but we also miss out on the dozens of daily, in-person interactions with our colleagues.  Which can lead to feelings of isolation.  

Looking at social media, it’s easy to look at highlight reels of other people’s lives and fall into the trap of thinking it’s only us who struggles.  We can all “turn it on” or “turn it up,” but that doesn’t mean the seemingly put-together people we see each day on Zoom don’t struggle.

At PCI, we are having conversations about how we can best support our associates who are experiencing mental health challenges.  

Step one is awareness.  Always.  Later today we will hold a meeting open to all our associates to create some space to talk about mental health challenges and the resources we provide.  

Several of our associates are planning to share their personal experiences about the importance of being proactive in addressing mental health issues.  

When my wife Julie died from cancer in August of 2018, my youngest daughters and I participated in a grief counseling program through a local church that made a tremendous difference in our lives.  I had also been married previously and went through a painful divorce. I plan to share during our meeting today how meeting with a counselor was a key step for me in moving forward.

We will also review some of the terrific services we make available to our associates in addition to our health insurance plan.  We have partnerships with several firms with expertise in different areas:

  -MINES & Associates: provider of virtual counseling services available to all PCI associates and family members

  -Marketplace Chaplains: personalized and proactive chaplain care

  -PCI THRIVES: an internal Wellness Platform provided by Prevention Cloud

  -Twice weekly Mindfulness Meditation + weekly Chair Yoga led by Eric Mosley, Black Mat Yoga

I would also be interested in any ideas or programs your organization offers.  Please feel free to reach out to me directly at dclancy@publishingconcepts.com.

____________________________

Reflection:  What are my feelings and assumptions around mental health issues?  Are there actions I could take to better support myself, my colleagues, family members or friends?  

Action: Journal about the questions above.

What exactly is “stress?”

One of our challenges with stress is understanding exactly what it is.

We use the term stress both to describe a traffic delay and a death in the family. 

We say we are stressed when we feel busy, frustrated, anxious, or under pressure.  We might find ourselves “getting stressed out by email, politics, the news, the weather, or our growing to-do list,” Kelly McGonigal writes in The Upside of Stress

“Stress is commonly used to describe trivial irritations, but it’s just as likely to be shorthand for more serious psychological challenges such as depression and anxiety,” Kelly writes.  

Our biggest sources of stress vary widely depending on our circumstances and our season of life.  We might be most stressed about work, parenting, illness, getting out of debt, or going through a divorce. 

The problem is stress has become a “catch-all term for anything we don’t want to experience,” observes Kelly, “and everything that’s wrong with the world.” 

In an effort to be more specific about what stress is, Kelly suggests a new definition: “Stress arises when something you care about is at stake.”

The benefits of this definition include that it is big enough to hold both the frustration over traffic and the grief over a loss. It includes our thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions when we’re feeling stressed, as well as how we choose to cope with situations we’d describe as stressful. 

“This definition also highlights an important truth about stress,” notes Kelly: “Stress and meaning are inextricably linked. You don’t stress out about things you don’t care about, and you can’t create a meaningful life without experiencing some stress.”

The link between stress and meaning may help explain why some people don’t view stress as something to be avoided, but rather to be embraced.  When we care about something, we are more likely to take action to overcome or remove the stress. We seek information, help, or advice.  We accept a stressful event has occurred and put together a strategy to deal with it.  

With this mindset, we are more likely to view stressful situations as a challenge, not an overwhelming problem.  We gain confidence we can address challenges, and are better able to find meaning in difficult circumstances.

The research shows people who believe stress is enhancing “are less depressed and more satisfied with their lives than those who believe stress is harmful,” writes Kelly.  We “have more energy and fewer health problems. We’re happier and more productive at work.” 

More tomorrow.

_____________________

Reflection: Consider a current challenge in my life.  Am I addressing it head-on or avoiding it?  What would be a good next step to take?

Action:  Take it.

How did stress get its bad reputation?

In 1936, the Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye injected rats with a hormone from cow’s ovaries. Things did not go well.  The lab rats developed bleeding ulcers.  

Next, Hans injected the rats with a salt solution and a hormone isolated from a cow’s placenta. The rats developed the same symptoms.  Next up was an injection made from kidneys and spleens, Kelly McGonigal writes in her book The Upside of Stress.  

Same result: sick rats.

“Eventually, Selye had a flash of insight: The rats weren’t getting sick because of what they were injected with, but because of what they were experiencing,” Kelly writes.  “Selye found that he could create the same symptoms by subjecting rats to any uncomfortable experience: exposing them to extreme heat or cold, forcing them to exercise without rest, blasting them with noise, giving them toxic drugs.”

The rats reminded Hans of his old human patients whose bodies were falling apart: “They seemed worn out and run down.  At the time, Selye called it ‘sick syndrome’,” Kelly writes.  “Perhaps, he reasoned, the cumulative wear and tear of life’s challenges weakened the body.” 

This is how the science of stress began.

“Here is where Selye made the grand leap from rat experiments to human stress,” states Kelly.  “He hypothesized that many conditions plaguing humans, from allergies to heart attacks, were the result of the process he had observed in his rats.  Selye’s leap from rats to humans was theoretical, not experimental.  He had studied lab animals all his life.  But that didn’t keep him from speculating about humans.” 

Hans then made another decision that forever changed how the world thought about stress, Kelly observes. 

“He chose to define stress in a way that went far beyond his laboratory methods with rats.  Stress, he claimed, was the response of the body to any demand made on it.  It wasn’t just a response to noxious injections, traumatic injuries, or brutal laboratory conditions, but to anything that requires action or adaptation. 

“By defining stress in this way, Selye set the stage for our modern terror about stress,” writes Kelly.

So, was Selye right? 

Yes.  And, no.

Kelly writes: “If you’re the human equivalent of Selye’s rats—deprived, tortured, or abused—then, yes, your body will pay a price. There is ample scientific evidence that severe or traumatic stress can harm your health.  However, Selye defined stress so broadly that it includes not just trauma, violence, and abuse, but also just about everything that happens to you,” Kelly writes.  “To Selye, stress was synonymous with the body’s reaction to life.”

Later in his life, Hans realized not all stressful experiences will make you sick.  “He started talking about good stress (eustress) as an antidote to bad stress (distress),” writes Kelly.  “He even tried to improve stress’s image, saying in a 1970s interview, ‘There is always stress, so the only point is to make sure that it is useful to yourself and useful to others.’  

“But it was too late,” Kelly observes.  “Selye’s work had already instilled a general fear about stress in the general public and the medical community.”

More tomorrow.

__________________________

Reflection:  How might I benefit from redefining my view of stress? 

Action: Have a conversation with someone I’m close to about our experience with stress.